Let me begin by telling you that all of these photographs were taken by my love, Arky, and only edited by myself. He kindly encouraged me to leave all of my gear at home in a bid to pack lightly and have a break. Thankfully, he travelled with his Fuji XT-1 which is both super light, and super great to shoot with. Thank you Arks, for capturing our trip properly. You are so talented and need your own blog immediately.
We flew in on a Thursday evening and after the speediest customs ever, we caught our first train into Shinjuku. I remember stepping off that train, and into the dark station only to think two thoughts: what smells so good & where the hell are we?! This would be the first of many public areas in Japan which smell heavily of Japanese food and make you hungry, almost immediately (even after being completely filled by a bowl of udon). We moved through the streets in awe, following directions to our apartment. Everything was unfamiliar, but it was comforting in a bizarre way. After dropping off our bags, we walked around to find somewhere to eat. Everywhere we went was small, cozy and inviting which made it difficult to pick somewhere to stop. At home, Arky and I pick our meal choices based off ratings, reviews & whilst observantly avoiding spending money on a crappy meal. We had no choice here but to let that go, and give everywhere a chance. Looking back, Japan is certainly the country to do that. With high food standards, and extreme cleanliness, it's almost difficult to have a "bad meal."
So that first night we settled for this small little place that served some sort of dumplings. In order to understand what meat came in them, the poor waitress had to draw a pig. Side note: everything in Japan comes with pork. It will always be pig. Always. I even had a tofu dish with pork.
The following days we walked, and walked and walked some more. We wandered from area to area and did our best to understand the metro. Arky claims it was easy, but I really found it hard. The system is unbelievably efficient, but hard for non-Japanese speaking tourists to understand. Our favourite area was Harajuku. It was here that we ate the best gyoza (see below) with the best broth and the best rice and the best everything really. What I wouldn't give to go back there and eat 18 gyoza all over again for just over $6 AUD. Beautiful, beautiful place.
Tokyo moves fast, but it also has a very quiet and calm energy to it. The trains are silent, the people are incredibly polite and you can't help but feel safe. All the time. When I type it out here, I feel sad to think that this is all over and I won't be returning for a while. It's a magical place, and something I have yet to experienced in any other country. Our whole experience was also heightened by the fact that neither of us chose to get sim cards for our phones so a lot of the time we felt disconnected from the world. Except for the night we came out of a station with no charge on either of our phones and absolutely zero clue as to where we were. We walked around and around trying to find somewhere to charge and felt helpless and stupid that we couldn't seem to work it out without phones. "We have to be resourceful" I said to Arky at one point. I feel this really tested us, but also proved to the both of us that the world can go on, and you can solve problems without your best friend, the iPhone.
Ahhh, Kyoto. Cold, beautiful, old. It was here that we did the lovely "Fushimi Inari" hike and where we learned that I have a far greater fitness than Arky. Kind of. We stopped along the way to take photographs and marvel at those who were stopped for soft serve ice cream (!?) At the top stands a beautiful shrine, though in my opinion, the climb to the top was actually the highlight of it all. Actually, the highlight was the okonomiyaki at the bottom. I'm embarrassed to admit that.
It was also in Kyoto that we took a day trip to Nara with our great friend, Nick. I had all of these romantic visions of myself wandering around with the famous deer, petting them and gracefully feeding them as we explored. Reality: I am petrified of being bombarded by large animals. At one point I threw all the crackers to the ground and ran for my life. We can't have it all.
Between Kyoto and Osaka we spent a very special night staying at Shojoshin-in, a buddhist temple in Mount Koyasan. It's difficult to write about this experience because it was truly like nothing I have experienced. If I thought the rest of Japan was peaceful, this was on it's own level. After checking in, we were shown around and to our beautiful traditional bedroom. The lovely host explained the structure of our evening and most importantly, when to wear our kimonos! We ate dinner prepared by the monks in a private room which thank goodness had it's own heater because these rooms were freezing. The photograph of me kneeling was not posed, I was just so unbelievably stoked to be able to curl up in front of something warm. After dinner we were able to take private baths in their beautiful onsens. Now this. Out of all of the food, the gyozas, the okonomiyakis, the walks, the spectacular views of Japan, this bath ruled every experience. The water flows in from outside into this incredible wooden bath and you just float in there for as long as you like. There is no sound other than the streaming water. I wish, I wish, I wish there was something I had to hold as a memory of it. I felt every ounce of myself relax into the bath.
The following morning (after around 3 hours sleep), we were woken at 6am by the sound of gongs. This told us it was time to attend the morning prayer ceremony. My feet like ice, we moved downstairs. During the ceremony the heaters blasted away, and the sounds of the prayers literally lulled me to sleep. Sitting up. I've never done that before, but it was incredibly peaceful.
After another private breakfast, it was time to leave and move on to Osaka via another bullet train. These bullet trains quickly became a favourite of ours. We would buy bento boxes and nibble them while watching episode after episode of Parks and Rec. Good times.
Osaka reminded us a lot of Tokyo, though smaller and perhaps a little more spread out. However, we ran into a little bit of bad luck here. Arky pulled his hamstring on our second day and the poor love was unable to move much. I also came down with a pretty bad head cold. We took this as an opportunity to see two movies (Star Wars and The Walk) which was wonderful as we were both weary and I don't ever, ever say no to popcorn. Prior to our ailments we were able to explore Namba and Dotonburi a little, which we both loved. Think light up signs, insane amounts of people, street food, music etc. Namba station is also home to Din Tai Fung, aka the greatest Chinese dumplings on the face of the Earth. We were pretty happy with that and went twice.
Osaka was also home to Japan's famous aquarium. Given we were both a little slow, we decided to head there. It was super cute and we both felt like children pointing out all the fish (and sharks!!!!) Arky actually pet a stingray. I did not. There's a theme here. Next to the aquarium is a famous cafe, set up by Australians. I was just stoked to be able to get a proper cappuccino. Arky got a pretty sexy pizza.
And there you have it. Our three week trip squished into a post which I am so happy I can look back on.
Japan, we love you, we cannot wait to return.
Arky, from the bottom of my soba & gyoza loving heart, thank you for these memories. I love you even with a hamstring injury (maybe).